brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā
na śocati na kāńkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiḿ labhate parām

Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.55

One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.

Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, and His plenary portions cannot be understood by mental speculation nor by the nondevotees. If anyone wants to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he has to take to pure devotional service under the guidance of a pure devotee. Otherwise, the truth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead will always be hidden. As already stated in Bhagavad-gita (7.25), naham prakasah sarvasya: He is not revealed to everyone. No one can understand God simply by erudite scholarship or mental speculation. Only one who is actually engaged in Krishna consciousness and devotional service can understand what Krishna is. University degrees are not helpful.

One who is fully conversant with the Krishna science becomes eligible to enter into the spiritual kingdom, the abode of Krishna. Becoming Brahman does not mean that one loses his identity. Devotional service is there, and as long as devotional service exists, there must be God, the devotee, and the process of devotional service. Such knowledge is never vanquished, even after liberation. Liberation involves getting free from the concept of material life; in spiritual life the same distinction is there, the same individuality is there, but in pure Krishna consciousness. One should not mistakenly think that the word visate, “enters into Me,” supports the monist theory that one becomes homogeneous with the impersonal Brahman. No. Visate means that one can enter into the abode of the Supreme Lord in one’s individuality to engage in His association and render service unto Him. For instance, a green bird enters a green tree not to become one with the tree but to enjoy the fruits of the tree. impersonalists generally give the example of a river flowing into the ocean and merging. This may be a source of happiness for the impersonalist, but the personalist keeps his personal individuality like an aquatic in the ocean. We find so many living entities within the ocean, if we go deep. Surface acquaintance with the ocean is not sufficient; one must have complete knowledge of the aquatics living in the ocean depths.

Because of his pure devotional service, a devotee can understand the transcendental qualities and the opulences of the Supreme Lord in truth. As it is stated in the Eleventh Chapter, only by devotional service can one understand. The same is confirmed here; one can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead by devotional service and enter into His kingdom.

After attainment of the brahma-bhuta stage of freedom from material conceptions, devotional service begins by one’s hearing about the Lord. When one hears about the Supreme Lord, automatically the brahma-bhuta stage develops, and material contamination—greediness and lust for sense enjoyment—disappears. As lust and desires disappear from the heart of a devotee, he becomes more attached to the service of the Lord, and by such attachment he becomes free from material contamination.

In that state of life he can understand the Supreme Lord. This is the statement of Srimad-Bhagavatam also. After liberation the process of bhakti, or transcendental service, continues. The Vedanta-sutra (4.1.12) confirms this: a-prayanat tatrapi hi drstam. This means that after liberation the process of devotional service continues. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, real devotional liberation is defined as the reinstatement of the living entity in his own identity, his own constitutional position. The constitutional position is already explained: every living entity is a part-and-parcel fragmental portion of the Supreme Lord.

Therefore his constitutional position is to serve. After liberation, this service is never stopped. Actual liberation is getting free from misconceptions of life.

Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:

“After attaining bhakti, then what happens to that person?” Giving a particular case of the general rule, the Lord speaks this verse. By bhakti alone one knows me truly as either “that” or as “me”. Thus, the jnani knows me as tat (brahman) and the various devotees know me as mam (bhagavan). Since I have said that only by pure bhakti am I known (bhakyaham ekaya grahyah), then the jnani under discussion, after that (tad anantaram), by that bhakti alone which functions after the cessation of vidya, knowing me, enters me. He realizes the happiness of merging with me (sayujya). The meaning is that since I am beyond maya and vidya is part of maya, I (even in the form of brahman) cannot be known by vidya.

But there may be objection, for in the Narada Pancaratra it is said:

sankhya-yogau ca vairagyam tapo bhaktis ca kesave panca-parvaiva vidya

Oh Kesava, there are five types of knowledge: sankhya, yoga, vairagya, tapas and bhakti.

Bhakti is thus said to be a function of vidya in this verse. However, this actually means that some small portion of the hladini sakti of bhakti enters into vidya in order to give vidya its results, just as bhakti also enters into karma yoga in order give results of karma. This can be said because there are many statements saying that karma, jnana, yoga and other processes are just useless labor without bhakti. Since nirguna bhakti is not a function of vidya filled with sattva guna, though vidya is the cause of extinguishing avidya, the cause of knowledge of tat is bhakti alone.

Moreover, the smrti says sattvam sanjayate jnanam: sattva gives rise to jnana. (BG 14.17) Knowledge, which arises from sattva, is called sattva. Just as the word sattva indicates vidya, so knowledge arising from bhakti is often called bhakti. Sometimes it is called bhakti and other times it is called jnana. Therefore, one should see that there are two types of knowledge. Giving up the first type of knowledge (sattva), by the second type of knowledge (bhakti), one will attains brahma sayujya. This can be understood by consulting the Bhagavatam 11, twenty-fifth chapter.

Now, those who presume to be jnanis, desiring sayujya, by executing jnana alone without bhakti at all, obtain only suffering as their fruit. They are the most heavily condemned.

There are others also who, knowing that one cannot attain liberation by jnana alone without bhakti, practice jnana mixed with bhakti. But they consider the form of bhagavan as falsity (upadhi) created by maya, that the body of the Lord is made of the gunas. Reaching the state of yogarudha, they think themselves liberated. They too are condemned.

It is said:

mukha-bahuru-padebhyah purusasyasramaih saha
catvaro jajnire varna gunair vipradayah prthak

Each of the four social orders, headed by the brahmanas, was born through different combinations of the modes of nature, from the face, arms, thighs and feet of the Supreme Lord in His universal form. Thus the four spiritual orders were also generated. SB 11.5.2

ya evam purusam saksad atma-prabhavam isvaram
na bhajanty avajananti sthanad bhrastah patanty adhah

If any of the members of the four varnas and four asramas fail to worship or intentionally disrespect the Personality of Godhead, who is the source of their own creation, they willfall down from their position into a hellish state of life. SB 11.5.3

The meaning is that both those who do not worship me and as well those who do worship me but also disrespect me, even if they are sannyasis, have all their knowledge destroyed and fall.

It is also said:

ye ‘nye ‘ravindaksa vimukta-maninas
tvayy asta-bhavad avisuddha-buddhayah
aruhya krcchrena param padam tatah
patanty adho ‘nadrta-vusmad-anghrayah

O lotus-eyed Lord, although nondevotees who accept severe austerities and penances to achieve the highest position may think themselves liberated, their intelligence is impure. They fall down from their position of imagined superiority because they have no regard for Your lotus feet. SB 10.2.32

The word “foot” (anghri) should be taken to indicate “with bhakti.” Thus the phrase would mean “those who do not accept your feet with devotion.” They accept the Lord, but in the wrong way. The phrase anadrta-yusmad-anghraya means that they disrespect the Lord by thinking that the Lord’s body is material.

It is also said:

avajananti mam mudha manusim tanum asritam

The fools do not know me. They think I have taken the body of a material human. BG 9.11

Actually his form is human, but it is also sac cid ananda. That form can be seen only by the influence of the Lord’s inconceivable krpa sakti.

It is said in the Narayana Adhyatma:

nityavyakto ‘pi bhagavan iks(y)ate nija-saktitah
tarn rte paramanandam kah pasyet tarn imam prabhum

The Lord who is eternal and invisible can be seen through his own sakti. Other than by that means, who can see that Lord of the highest bliss?

That the Lord has a sac cid ananda body is confirmed in the Gopala Tapani Upanisad (1.33) with sat-cid-ananda-vigraham sri-vrndavana-sura-bhuruha-talasinam: that form of the Lord which is eternity knowledge and bliss was seated at the base of a desire tree in Vrndavana.

darsayam asa tarn ksattah sabdarh brahma dadhad vapuh

The Lord showed Himself to that Kardama Muni and displayed His transcendental form, which can be understood only through the Vedas.   SB 3.21.8

Thus in the srutis and smrtis there are thousands of such authoritative statements indicating the Lord’s transcendental body. However, by such statements as the following, these jnanis think that the Lord, bhagavan, is a false creation of maya (upadhi).

mayam tu prakrtirh vidyan mayinam tu mahesvaram

Know this nature to be maya. The great Lord is also made of this maya.   Svetasvatara Upanisad 4.2

However, this statement means that the Lord is endowed with an eternal sakti called maya arising from his own svarupa.

Madhvacarya quotes sruti to explain this statement,

ato maya-mayam visnum pravadanti sanatanam

Thus they call the eternal Visnu mayamayam.

Thus the word mayam in the Svetasvatara verse refers to the cit Sakti arising from the svarupa of the Lord, not to the sakti of the three gunas, which does not arise from his svarupa. They do not consider this meaning of the sruti statement. Nor do they consider that the statement could mean “Durga is maya and Siva is the possessor of maya”.

Thus, though these jnanis attain the status of jivan mukta, they fall down because of aparadha to the Lord. It is said in the parisista vacana of the Vasana Bhasya:

jivan-mukta api punar yanti samsara-vasanam
yady acintya-maha-saktau bhagavaty aparadhinah

The jivan muktas, if they are offenders to the Lord of inconceivable great sakti, again enter the illusions of samsara.

Attaining their goal, they think sadhana is no longer proper, and thus at the time of rejecting jnana, they reject not only jiiana, but also guni bhuta bhakti, thinking that tangible realization (of form and qualities) is false. After bhakti disappears along with jnana, because of offense to the form of the Lord, it cannot be again attained. Because they cannot realize tat without bhakti, they are therefore known only as persons who think they are liberated, having only false samadhi. This is stated in the verse ye ‘nye ‘ravindaksa vimukta-maninah.

But those who practice jnana mixed with bhakti, and at the same time respect the sac cid ananda form of bhagavan, gradually, with the cessation of vidya and avidya, attain para bhakti. Those liberated souls are of two types. One type, performing bhakti for obtaining sayujya, attains sayujya in the Lord’s form, realizing tat. These persons are praiseworthy.

The other type of person, such as Sukadeva, being greatly fortunate, gives up the desire for liberation by the influence of unpredicted association with kind, elevated devotees, and submerges himself completely in the taste of the sweetness of bhakti rasa. This is the most praiseworthy type. It is said:

atmaramas ca munayo nirgrantha apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukim bhaktim itthambhuta-guno harih

All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, bondage; desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls. SB 1.7.10

Thus there are four types of jnanis: two, reproachable, fall; and two, praiseworthy, cross samsara.

Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:

18.55 Through such devotion, he knows ‘who I am,’ i.e., knows My own essence and My nature, and ‘what I am,’ i.e., in My attributes and glory. Knowing Me truly, he rises to a higher level than this Bhakti, and acquiring knowledge of the truth, enters into Me through devotion. The meaning is that he attains Me by means of infinite and unsurpassed Bhakti which develops subsequent in time to the vision of the nature, attributes and glory of the Lord in reality. Here the term ‘Tatah’ (through) denotes that devotion is the cause of attainment; for it has been stated to be the cause of entrance n the text, ‘But by singel-minded devotion it is possible …’ (11.54). In this way, the crowning development has been told starting from the disinterested performance of periodical and occasional rites suitable for the various stations and stages of life, which are to be performed to propitiate the Supreme Person. Sri Krsna now explains that even for actions meant for attaining desired objects (Kamya-karmas) the crowning stage is the same as for these described above, provided they too are done not for fulfilling one’s desires but as offerings to propitiate the Supreme Person.

Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:

It is by this supreme devotion that one becomes qualified to truly understand the Supreme Lord Krishna. The understanding derived is as to the nature of the Supreme Lord such as omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc. His attributes of sat eternal existence, cit unlimited consciousness and ananda endless bliss. His qualities of mercy, compassion, equanimity to all and others similar. Thus realising something of His true nature one perceives Him residing within the heart and obtains then and there moksa or liberation from material existence which bequeaths the attainment of actual communion with Him.

Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:

The manner in which after reaching perfection and assuming the nature of brahman the spiritual substratum pervading all existence is through bhakti or exclusive loving devotion. In verse 54 brahma-bhutah means assuming one’s intrinsic divine nature and as such one is tranquil, serene, humble and egoless. The Maha Varaha Purana states: With the eradication of all sins and demerits subsequently renouncing the desire for sense objects one proceeds progressively towards the Supreme Lord Krishna by the transcendental medium of devotion. For one who has realised the Supreme Lord even while in a physical body there is a progressive increase of spiritual wisdom even after attaining moksa or liberation from material existence.

Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:

Bhakti or exclusive loving devotion itself manifests the Supreme Lord and by bhakti alone He is revealed. Lord Krishna is bound by the love and devotion of His devotees. Bhakti is superior to everything and is the infallible means of attaining eternal communion with Him. Only by bhakti is it possible to comprehend the reality of Lord Krishna as He is, who He is and what He is in reality. Free from doubts, false knowledge and illusion by understanding His unlimited divine attributes and His endless divine qualities. One becomes blissfully attached to Him through the causeless mercy of His devotee and attaining His grace worships Him exclusively with love and devotion. Such a devotee is always with Him and never away from Him. Lord Krishna being completely subdued by fervent love and devotion never leaves the presence of such a devotee nor does the devotee ever leave Lord Krishna’s presence. Every second of the day In all aspects of life such a devotee is worshipping Him sometimes internally and sometimes externally and thus he abides in the Supreme Lord and the the Supreme Lord abides in him. They are never apart from each other. This has been confirmed In chapter six, verse 30 which states: One who sees the Supreme Lord in everything and sees everything in the Supreme Lord is never separated from Him.

Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:

18.55 Bhaktya, through devotion, through that devotion described as Knowledge; abhijanati, he knows; mam, Me; tattvatah, in reality; as to yavan, what I am, with the extensive differences created by limiting adjuncts; and yah asmi, who I am when all distinctions create by the limiting adjuncts are destroyed-Me who am the supreme Person comparable to space [In points of all-pervasiveness and non-attachment.] and one-without-a-second, absolute, homogeneous Consciousness, birthless, ageless, immortal, fearless and deathless. Tatah, then; jnatva, having known; mam, Me, thus; tattvatah, in truth; visate, he enters into Me, Myself; tadanantaram, immediately after that (Knowledge). Here, by saing, ‘having known, he enters without delay’, it is not meant that the acts of ‘knowing’ and ‘entering immediately after’ are different. What then? What is meant is the absolute Knowledge itself that has to no other result, [In place of phalantarabhava-jnana-matram eva, Ast. reads ‘phalantarbhavat jnanamatram eva, absolute Knowledge itself, since there is no other result’.-Tr.] for it has been said, ‘And…understand Me to be the “Knower of the field”, (13.2). Opponent: Has it not been contradictory to say, he knows Me through that which is the supreme steadliness (nistha) in Knowledge? Vedantin: If it be asked, How it is contradictory? Opponent: The answer is: Whenever any Knowledge of something arises in a knower, at that very moment the knower knows that object. Hence, he does not depend on steadfastness in Knowledge which consists in the repetition of the act of knowing. And therefore, it is contradictory to say one knows not through knowledge, but through steadfastness in knowledge which is a repetition of the act of knowing. Vedantin: There is no such fault, since the culmination of Knowledge-which (Knowledge) is associated with the causes of its unfoldment and maturity, and which has nothing to contradict it- in the conviction that one’s own Self has been realized is what is referred to by the word nistha (consummation): When knowledge-which concerns the identity of the ‘Knower of the field’ and the supreme Self, and which remains associated with the renunciation of all actions that arise from the perception of the distinction among their accessories such as agent etc., and which unfolds from the instruction of the scriptures and teachers, depending on purity of the intellect etc. and humility etc. which are the auxiliary cuases of the origin and maturity of Knowledge-continues in the form of the conviction that one’s own Self has been realized, then that continuance is called the supreme steadfastness (nistha) in Knowledge. This steadfastness in Knowledge that is such has been spoken of as the highest, the fourth kind of devotion in relation to the three other devotions viz of the afflicted, etc. (cf. 7.16). Through that highest devotion one realizes the Lord in truth. Immediately after that the idea of difference between the Lord and the Knower of the field vanishes totally. There-fore the statement, ‘one knows Me through devotion in the form of steadfastness in Knowledge’, is not contradictory. And, in this sense, all the scriptures-consisting of Vedanta (Upanisads etc.), History, Mythology and Smrtis-, as for instance, ‘Knowing (this very Self the Brahmanas) renounce…and lead a mendicant’s life’ (Br. 3.5.1), ‘Therefore they speak of monasticism as excellent among these austerities’ (Ma. Na. 24.1), ‘Monasticism verily became supreme’ (ibid. 21.2), which enjoin renunciation become meaningful. Thus, monasticism means renunciation of rites and duties. There are also the texts, ‘Having renounced the Vedas as well as this world and the next’ (Ap. Dh. Su. 2.9.13), and ‘Give up religion and irreligion’ (Mbh. Sa. 329.40; 331.44), etc. And here (in the Gita) also various relevant) passages have been pointed out. In is not porper that those texts should be meaningless. Nor are they merely eulogistic, since they occur in their own contexts. Besides, Liberation consists in being established in the changeless real nature of the indwelling Self. Indeed, it is not possible that one who wants to go to the eastern sea and the other who wants to go in the opposite direction to the western sea can have the same course! And steadfastness in Knowledg consists in being totally absorbed in maintaining a current of thought with regard to the indwelling Self. And that is opposed to coexistence with duties, like going to the western sea. It has been the conclusion of those versed in the valid means of knowledge that the difference between them is as wide as that between a mountain and a mustard seed! Therefore it is established that one should have recourse to steadfastness in Knowledge only, by relinquishing all rites and duties. The fruit of the attainment of success from the Yoga of Devotion consisting in worshiping the Lord with one’s own actions is the ability to remain steadfast in Knowledge, from which, follows stead-fastness in Knowledge, culminating in the result, Liberation. That Yoga of Devotion to the Lord is now being praised in this concluding section dealing with the purport of the Scripture, with a veiw to generating a firm conviction with regard to it (the purport of the Scripture):

Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:

18.41-60 Brahmana – etc. upto avasopitat. Surely the intrinsic nature of the Brahmanas etc., does not voilate what has been difined (above) by way of classifying their duties. Therefore, as far as you are concerned, you have the intrinsic quality of the Ksatriya (warrior), and your nature i.e., intrinsic quality, does, without fail, assume the part of the inciter of yourself, even though you don’t like it. For, a person who acts simply being incited by that (natural condition), there is the strong bondage of the merit or demerit. Therefore, perform actions following the means of correct knowledge, taught by Me. In that case, the bondage would disappear. The intention of the principal sentence (statement of the entire passage under study) is to help to get this idea. The meaning of the subordinate sentences (statements) is evident. Briefly (verse 50) : in short. Knowledge : i.e. the one which has been explained earlier. Nistha conveys, avoiding verbal jugglary, the meaning ‘what has been determined’. He who is endowed with intellect totally pure etc. : All this has been almost explained already. Hence, no more trouble is taken [to comment upon it].

Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:

bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jñatva
visate tad-anantaram

Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:

bhaktyā — by pure devotional service; mām — Me; abhijānāti — one can know; yāvān — as much as; yaḥ ca asmi — as I am; tattvataḥ — in truth; tataḥ — thereafter; mām — Me; tattvataḥ — in truth; jñātvā — knowing; viśate — he enters; tat-anantaram — thereafter.